The Sixth Amendment guarantees an accused’s right to an attorney:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court found that the right to Assistance of Counsel is so important that the State should be forced to pay for the lawyer in cases where the defendant is indigent or poor. And the right is so important that not only must a person be provided an attorney, but the assistance of counsel must be effective. In other words, ineffective assistance of counsel may be grounds for an appeal.
A person may waive the right and decide to represent himself. Where a waiver has occurred and the defendant has decided to go pro se, the defendant’s rights in serious matters are generally protected by standby counsel who must prepare for the case, and who sit behind the defendant and may be consulted by the defendant on questions that arise during the legal proceedings.
The right to counsel, however, is not absolute. Consider the case of Joshua Monson, who is being tried in Washington state on drug charges. Monson stabbed his first two lawyers with pens, causing a mistrial earlier this year. Now on trial for the same charges, Monson this week stabbed his third defense lawyer.
Arlington police Officer Michael Sargent was seated at the prosecution’s table and caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. He grabbed Monson’s arm and swept the man’s leg. Snohomish County corrections officers also jumped to action, dog-piling on Monson.
The moment the officers saw Monson move toward the pen, they also activated an electric stun cuff that Monson was wearing on his leg, according to witnesses.
Now the judge, citing a Washington Court of Appeals ruling in a prior case, has ruled that Monson has effectively given up his right to assistance of counsel. In addition, the judge has ordered that Monson be restrained in his chair, an order that Monson objected to by saying, “How can [the jury] fairly judge me when they see me in a chair like this?”